The Greatest Generation
Over 16 million U.S. Armed Forces served in World War II. Over 400,000 Americans sacrificed their lives and more than 600,000 were injured across six continents and every ocean. Of 1.4 million remaining World War II veterans, 680 leave us every day. The 2013 “National Memorial Day Concert” will pay tribute to the brave men and women of the Greatest Generation and, in particular, to a soldier whose story is unique yet shares the commonality of the horrors of war experienced by so many of our WWII veterans.
Charles Durning’s Story
Most Americans knew Charles Durning as one of the country's premier character actors, who won a Tony Award, and earned two Oscar nominations, nine prime-time Emmy nominations, and the Screen Actors Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Charles Durning was also a decorated hero of World War II. Drafted into the army as a rifleman, at age 21 he joined one of the first waves that hit Omaha Beach on D-Day. Though seriously injured by a mine explosion, Durning recovered and returned to take part in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest, suffering bayonet wounds from hand-to-hand combat. He was able to continue fighting and marched into Germany in 1945, where he was severely wounded in the chest, resulting in his final evacuation to the U.S. His courageous service earned him three Purple Hearts and the Silver and Bronze Stars for valor.
After the war Durning boxed professionally while taking acting classes on the G.I. Bill. He spent the next four decades making his mark with endearing performances in theater, film, and television. He won the Tony Award for his portrayal of Big Daddy in the 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” His breakthrough performance in film was as corrupt cop Lieutenant Snyder in “The Sting.” Many unforgettable roles in films followed, ranging from the Governor in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” to Doc Hopper in “The Muppet Movie” and Les, who memorably courts Dustin Hoffman’s title character, in “Tootsie.” In 2001, he played the role of Governor Pappy O’Daniel in the Coen Brothers’ comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” He also had an ongoing role in the critically acclaimed FX series “Rescue Me” as retired firefighter Mike Gavin.
Charles Durning was a beloved member of the “National Memorial Day Concert” family. Taking our stage on the West Lawn of the Capitol for fifteen years, he represented the courage and resiliency of the Greatest Generation and expressed unwavering support for veterans everywhere.
World War II Memorial
The World War II Memorial honors those who served in the armed forces of the U.S., the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home. Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th Century, this memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people. Visit the site for to search the electronic World War II Registry of Americans who contributed to the war effort or add the name of a loved one.
Submit a remembrance of a loved one or friend who served during WWII on our Virtual Wall of Remembrances. Now is the time to preserve the memories of our brave men and women of the Greatest Generation.